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Sledgehammer to miss the nut?

Posted by Richard Wednesday, January 12, 2005

In another letter in today' Telegraph (sometimes it seems that the only interesting bits are in the letters column – which does not say much for the "professional" journalists) we have a contribution from Bernard Seward, Bristol, questioning the wisdom of the "Part P" amendments to the Building Regulations, requiring certification of electricians and/or electrical work.

We have addressed this issue three times in this Blog (here, here, and here), where we unequivocally identify it as an EU impost, but such has been the failure of the media to do its homework that is fact has clearly eluded many people, including the Telegraph’s current contributor.

Nevertheless, Mr Seward makes some good points. He starts by saying that: "it is unquestionably a good move to squeeze out cowboy workmen, but the new wiring regulations are likely to cause many competent sole-trader electricians to give up in despair."

The letter continues:

Even an electrical tradesman who can prove a near-lifetime of experience backed by a City & Guilds qualification and/or an NVQ, plus retraining where appropriate, is barred from carrying on his (or her) trade without official certification.

This requires yearly assessment and surveillance fees. An official of Building Research Establishment Certification Ltd can charge £634.50 incl VAT for a one-day assessment including two site visits. This is the initial assessment - and that's just the start.

Periodic surveillance visits, reckoned on half-day attendance, run at £376 with a further £282 for additional half days, or £499 for whole days where these are considered necessary.

Rigorous documentation is needed to meet the new standards, and a minimum of two installations will be visited and assessed (at the obligatory rates, of course), for their compliance with the Building Regulations, in particular BS7671.

It is difficult enough for the average homeowner to find competent tradesmen willing to undertake one-off domestic jobs. Most are either working abroad or on long-term contracts associated with John Prescott's house-building bonanza.

The Part P Regulations will almost certainly exacerbate the situation, while multiplying the risks likely to be taken by those citizens priced out of the market: exactly the opposite of what was intended.

It seems quite extraordinary that in the absence of any kind of sliding scale, the sole trader is obliged to pick up the tab on the provisions of these regulations. Was this really thought out before it was imposed on the industry?
Christopher Booker and I have noted many times this propensity of regulations to achieve exactly the opposite of what was intended, and we labelled the phenomenon "the sledgehammer to miss the nut" syndrome.

However, this may not apply in to these regulations. While Mr Seward asked whether the regulations were "really thought out" before they were imposed on the industry, the answer may be yes. There is a dark rumour going round that the regulations were pushed by the German craft guilds – who are a very powerful force – who see in them a means of seeing off the cheap competition from the enlargement countries.

In this case, therefore, the regulations may be having precisely the effect intended – cementing in a craft monopoly and seeing off cheaper competition. The downside, of course, is that the public – as ever – has to pay the price. Ain't the EU wunnerful.